Walking the Talk: Perceptions of Organizational Justice
I once heard the phrase “your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying” and found it to be one of the most vivid metaphors for the “say/do” gap at many organizations. When leaders’ behavior deviates from what they preach, organizations pay a price.
Who has not been in organizations where some people routinely say one thing but then do another. Where they speak about their lofty values but contradict those values on a daily basis. Leaders who preach frugality and cost saving for all and then stay at $1,000 a night suites, use private airplanes for travel (taking their wives or mistresses along) or order the most expensive wines while dining – all at company expense of course.
But employees notice and are quick to spot hypocrisy. The way leaders behave, what they say and to whom, and how they deal with problems, are all decoded and form part of a perception of organizational climate and fairness or lack thereof.
In my years researching what drives employee engagement and what can be done about it, the notion of organizational justice keeps coming up time and again. It refers to the perceived fairness of events and circumstances in people’s daily work routines -- for example, whether employees feel that their compensation accurately reflects their value and service to the company, whether the feedback they receive is an accurate and fair evaluation of their work and whether managers’ behavior is consistent with the values the company espouses.
The distinction between outcomes versus process is a well known organizational justice dichotomy. Distributive justice has been defined as perceived fairness of decisions related to performance appraisal, pay, rewards and recognitions. This relates to perceived fairness of outcomes. Procedural justice, on the other hand, is related to the perceived fairness of procedures used to make decisions and whether these are reliable, transparent and ethical.
Recent research has gone further by suggesting models which comprise more justice factors. A four-factor model, for instances, distinguishes between distributive, procedural, informational, and interpersonal types of justice, each of which is posited to predict different organizational outcomes.
Of course, striving to be consistent in our messaging and actions is only one facet of organizational justice, yet it is an absolutely critical one. Without it, it is impossible to create the bedrock of trust needed for employee engagement. Indeed, a “say-do” attitude fosters trust and affects day-to-day staff behavior, the glue that ties well run organizations together. Discordance on the other hand, creates mistrust and leads to disengagement. That then affects organizational performance that makes addressing the say/do gap a key management priority.